Ex-Alaska Airlines pilot’s wife says she’s in shock after Horizon Air disaster was averted

The wife of a former Alaska Airlines pilot who prosecutors say tried to cut Horizon Air's flight engines while in the cockpit said Thursday that she knew her husband struggled with depression but was in shock since his arrest.

“This is not my Joe,” she told reporters after attending her husband Joseph Emerson's first appearance in federal court in Portland, Oregon.

“He would never do that. He would never knowingly do any of this,” she added, her voice shaking. “This is not the man I married.”

Ethan Levy, Emerson's defense attorney, said Emerson was not suicidal or homicidal while on the Horizon Air flight. “There was no intent to harm himself or other people,” he said.

Levy added that Emerson wanted to thank the flight crew for their “timely and heroic actions.”

State and federal prosecutors accused Emerson of trying to activate a fire suppression system while in the cockpit as an off-duty pilot on Horizon Air Flight 2059 from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco on Sunday. After a brief argument with the pilots, he left the cockpit and was placed on his wrists in the back of the plane, according to court documents.

The plane diverted to Portland, where it landed safely with more than 80 people on board.

Emerson has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors charged Emerson with interfering with a flight crew, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

In charging documents, police said Emerson told them he had a nervous breakdown, was struggling with depression and hadn't slept in 40 hours.

Emerson was quoted in charging documents as saying a friend of his had recently died. Levi's defense attorney clarified Thursday that his friend, who was best man at his wedding, actually died about six years ago.

Emerson also said he had taken psychedelic mushrooms for the first time about 48 hours earlier. The pilots and others who encountered Emerson said he did not appear intoxicated, according to court documents.

The averted disaster has renewed attention to the mental capacity of those allowed in the cockpit.

Emerson was to remain in custody.


Claire Rush is a staff member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.